Famous Italian director Franco Zeffirelli died aged 96 in Rome on Saturday, BBC reported. The Florence native directed stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1967 film Taming of the Shrew, and Judi Dench on stage in Romeo and Juliet.

Zeffirelli had a staggeringly prolific career for more than 60 years, and was celebrated as a director of films, theatre and opera. Shakespeare inspired other successful movies such as Hamlet with Mel Gibson and Glenn Close, and a film of Verdi’s Otello with Plácido Domingo.

“I am not a film director,” the director told AP in an interview in 2006. “I am a director who uses different instruments to express his dreams and his stories – to make people dream.”

Zeffirelli was born on the outskirts of Florence on February 12, 1923. In his 2006 autobiography, he wrote about the circumstances of his birth, recounting how his mother attended her husband’s funeral pregnant with another man’s child. She intended to name him Zeffiretti, after an aria in Mozart’s comic opera “Cosi fan Tutti”, unable to give him either her or his father’s names. However, a typographical error made it Zeffirelli, making him “the only person in the world with Zeffirelli as a name, thanks to my mother’s folly”.

He grew up at the home of his father’s cousin in Florence after his mother died when he was six. There, he first heard an opera – Wagner’s Walkuere – at the age of eight or nine, leading to a life-long passion. He also developed a love of English culture and literature after his father got him to take thrice weekly English lessons from a British expatriate.

His experiences with the British expatriate during fascist leader Benito Mussolini’s rule developed into his semi-autobiographical 1991 film Tea with Mussolini. He remained an Anglophile throughout his life, and was conferred with an honorary knighthood in 2004, making him the only Italian citizen to have received the honour.

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